There are few things I enjoy more in life than going to a movie that I have highly anticipated, especially one that is historical in nature. And the American Civil War is, to me, the most fascinating era in American history. Being a Steven Spielberg fan, having such a movie made by Mr. Spielberg increases the anticipation, for I know the effort will be superb. So when the lights went down today in a packed theater in Michigan and the words “Lincoln” appeared on the screen, I smiled with all the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning.
Of course I knew Daniel Day-Lewis would be sublime as Abraham Lincoln and he most certainly was, but he was by no means the only jewel of this production. Sally Fields delivered a heart-wrenching, realistic portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln; Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens displayed both wit and conviction; David Strathairn as William Seward made me believe Seward himself had resurrected to portray himself, so much did he look like the real man. Even the smaller parts, like that of John Hawkes as Robert Lathum (fans of the television series “Deadwood” will remember Hawkes) and Walton Goggins (“Justified” television series) as Clay Hutchins were memorable as well.
While I could see Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln the transformation was no less stunning, from his humor to his passion for politics to his grief as a father and husband. Throughout the movie Spielberg shows us Lincoln’s humanity, a man who seems both larger than life yet as accessible as any man on the street. His stories and rhetoric are often laced with humor.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the dialogue. While steeped in that era’s formality, it was delivered by the actors in an easily understood fashion. I’ve always loved the collective sense of humor among Americans of that era. It was threaded throughout the primary and secondary sources I’ve read and used as research for my own writing. And this comes across in the dialogue convincingly and authentically.
John Williams composed the soundtrack, as he does for so many of Spielberg’s films, and he does a masterful job, as always. The music is subdued and beautiful but never upstages the actors or the scene, instead simply enhancing the mood with seamless understatement.
I was pleasantly surprised by the large crowd at a matinee on a beautiful day. Though there were few younger folks there, I hope word of mouth from us long-in-the-tooth viewers will bring more of the younger generation to see this film, and once it is released on blu-ray and DVD I would certainly hope that every history teacher in high schools and universities uses it as a teaching tool.
I overheard one viewer call the movie “gripping” after it was over. Indeed it was, from start to finish. There were no action sequences, no big special effects or explosions…just great acting, great entertainment, the magic of movies, and history brought to life before our very eyes.